The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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See and hear before you date online

New York, Jan. 13 (Reuters): Online daters using Yahoo Inc.’s personals service will now be able to check out whether a possible match has a deep voice or quirky mannerisms before embarking on a first date.

Yahoo is trying to ease the online dating experience. The company said today it will now offer voice and video greetings to singles for free to spruce up their online personal advertisements on its service.

“Online dating is becoming much more mainstream. The beauty of voice and video is that it tells people more about the other person through the nuances in their speech and their mannerisms and you can’t get that with just text,” Samantha Lazear, senior product manager for Yahoo Personals, said.

More than 17 million people viewed online personals last year and 2.5 million people have paid for online personals, according to Jupiter Research.

Online dating has become a high-growth business for market leaders as more singles flock to the web for love. “If you want to talk about major umbrella dating services, they are the first to market with a simultaneous video and voice component,” said Jupiter Research analyst Stacey Herron.

Yahoo does not charge singles to post an advertisement and they can browse other advertisements for free. But it charges a subscription fee of about $25 a month or $100 a year to initiate a relationship with another single and reply to an advertisement.

To use the video and voice components, web surfers need a microphone and webcam.

“What we have found is ads that have photos get eight times as many responses as ads with just text. We think the more people learn (through voice and video), they are more likely to respond,” Lazear said.

“Our business grows when people feel comfortable making a response.”

American Demographics reported that only 22 per cent of the 98 million singles in the US in 2002 had tried online dating, he said, adding that the industry has just scratched the surface.

“Being able to use video and voice for free is a big deal because consumers will be willing to embrace these new technologies and acclimate to it,” Herron said. “Eventually down the road Yahoo could charge for it with a premium fee.”

Yahoo does not disclose how many people subscribe to its personals service but the company said 70 per cent of its subscription revenue in the third quarter came from four services — one of which was personals.

Yahoo chief executive Terry Semel said the company met its goal of ending 2002 with 2 million paying subscribers.

The company has been trying to boost its paid services to offset the slump in its advertising business and diversify its revenue base.

“Now that Yahoo has launched this audio/video it puts them in a good position,” Herron said. “Of course, everyone else will follow suit. We will see a bigger battle between the top four blanket dating sites and will likely see more genre-specific or niche sites proliferate.”

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